Thursday had dawned like any other Thursday with the beep-beep alarm going off on the cell phone. A sickly dawn spread across the dark sky outside and the city paled across the river preparing for another day same as the last one.
It must have been deep slumber that the piercing beeps had penetrated bringing back a reminder that this world was real and could not be ignored much longer. As the real and the unreal meshed apart like the sharp teeth of pruning spears after they had mercilessly cut some hapless shrub into correct shape, I was forced to face the dawn.
Okay. That’s an exaggeration.
The point is that I hate waking up early and I’ve had to do that everyday this week and I’ve hated it. Besides, the season’s been changing and I know what’s coming.
Fall. Which means winter’s not far behind. Which means more mornings of bitter cold. A scary thought for a tropical girl like me.
With dawn has started a mad rush to the underground station. With dawn has started keeping pace with hordes of glassy-eyed people rushing down the escalators like the possessed on their march to hell. The brief train ride, the rise onto the surface, the getting through the turnstiles, the waiting at the lights, the glowing orange palm sign changing to the glowing white striding man and then the old corner.
In short, Thursday had started just like another day.
But in fact, it wasn’t just another day. I didn’t realize that until late at night when I logged into Facebook. Thursday night was actually Friday morning in parts of Facebook.
At home, in Kolkata, it was Mahalaya, the day the Goddess starts her journey down to earth from Mount Kailash. The day that heralds the coming of the festive season, Durga Puja.
It’s a day when people feel like the light has changed to the wonderful hue of Sharatkaal, the Kashful has bloomed at its best, Pujo music is in the air and all the new dresses have been bought for the four days of excitement about to come in a few days. A day when the pandals housing the deities are complete and Pujo shopping and sales are still on in full force. A month’s holiday in schools and colleges have started and one is finally about to enjoy a break from the monotony of daily life.
A day when one sets the alarm at 4 am to hear the auspicious recitals and songs of awakenings on the radio at dawn.
Unfortunately, it’s a rare 4 am in Kolkata I can remember when I managed to wake up. But I didn’t have to. The Goddess was everywhere. On advertisements, on special issues, in the small lanes and the main roads, in people’s chatter, just about everywhere.
There are some Indians in the area where I live now. I’ve also overheard people speak Bengali on their walks on the boardwalk sometimes. But where is the Goddess? She is nowhere to be found.
There are some stores that have decked up already for Halloween. I know that in a few days there will be pumpkins outside people’s doors. Those decorations somehow underscore the absence of a different set of festivities all around me. The absence of the Goddess echoes the absence of the loving presence of those one was surrounded with when one was immersed in loving and compassionate presences one tended to take for granted.
A million miles away, as I walk back to the apartment building at night, I see a short, stocky figure of a woman at the escalator all dressed in black. As I approach she stops the doors from closing and waits for me. She is a bit awkward. I get in. We are the only two people inside. She looks tired.
“Long day?” she asks me. Her tired, pale skin and pale hair somehow remind me of the tired paleness of the city opposite the river at dawn.
“Yes,” I say. I’m surprised. People rarely talk in elevators in the NY metro area.
“Everyone is putting in more and making less,” she offers conversation unexpectedly.
I wonder what she’s noticed about me.
“Was it a long day for you too?” I ask.
“No. Tomorrow is Friday. I work from home. It only gets better from here. Hope it gets better for you too.”
The floor sign glows on the digital screen. It’s time for me to exit. I smile at her sudden compassion.
She must have noticed something.
I’m touched by her words. I change my mind as I walk out.
My Goddess is right here too, I think. Everywhere. Always.
If you liked this, check out Durga Puja, Fall, Kashful and the City.